Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

The holiday season is upon us.  I don't know about you, but it seems to me that this season has been especially poignant.  What I mean by that is my emotions have been on a roller coaster.  I think that stems from losing my grandma a month ago.  I have moments of sheer joy, like when I'm rocking my son to sleep and singing him Christmas songs.  And at other times, I can cry at the drop of a hat, like when I play through a piece of sheet music that has Nanny's distinctive writing on it.

It seems this year my highs have been higher and my lows have been lower.

I'm not complaining because I do think this is part of experiencing life to the fullest, but it can be exhausting to run the gamut of emotions I've been feeling.

Nothing feels more like true comfort and joy than some good 'ole Christmas music.  On a whim, I bought two digital Christmas albums in the same day-- the whole albums!  They are Michael W. Smith's The Spirit of Christmas and Pentatonix' That's What Christmas Means to Me.  They do not disappoint.  I highly recommend them both to bring you much comfort and joy during this season.

I thought I would take a post to tell you about some of my favorite Christmas songs and why I love them.

"Jingle Bells"- I don't know what it is about this silly song, but it's Christmas personified if you ask me.  My kids at school just love it.  We perform it many different ways.  The 4th graders are learning to play it on their recorders.  The 1st graders can play it on xylophones.  The other grades have experimented with jingle bells and just their voices.  And I learned a fun arrangement of the song on piano this year.

"Still, Still, Still"- This is such a beautiful Austrian carol that I discovered a couple of years ago when I was a high school chorus teacher.  As soon as I heard it, I knew we had to learn it for our holiday concert.  I had my ensemble group perform the song, and it brought tears to my eyes.  It's one of those songs that will always transport me back to that special time in my life.  Try to find a version of a choir singing this song.  It's sure to touch you.

"O Holy Night"-  I don't know what it is about this hymn/ song.  It's magic.  I wonder if the Frenchmen who penned it realized that back in the 1800's or John Sullivan Dwight, the man who translated it into English.  Any version of this song is good in my book.  But last year, it became especially meaningful to me.  I was asked to sing it at my church on Christmas Eve.  I was excited to perform it, but grew concerned as the date came closer and I was struggling with losing my voice.  The day before, I almost asked the directors to replace me because I was almost sure I couldn't sing it.  But, I prayed for strength and sang it any way.  Below is a link to that performance.  Even though it's not perfect, it stands out as one of my proudest performances.

I pray that you will find much comfort and joy as you spend time with those who mean the most to you this holiday season.

Do you have a favorite Christmas song?  If so, I would love to hear what it is in the comments below.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Worth of a Music Teacher

Last week was a crazy week.

It was the week of our holiday performances at school.

Now, those of you who have been involved in any kind of holiday performance can probably understand just how busy this time of year can get.  Not only is there the holiday performance (many times, multiple performances), but all of the extra rehearsals you have in order to prepare for it.

Now, imagine being the director of the performance.  The workload just multiplies when you're actually in charge of pulling the whole thing off.  You're not just responsible for one part.  You're responsible for all parts.  And if something goes wrong, it's your fault, no matter what.

I'm very lucky to work with another talented music teacher, so we are able to tag team and help each other.  This year, she worked with the lines primarily and I focused on the music.

We did not have the luxury of being exempt from our normal classes while we were directing the musical.  Which meant, I was technically in charge of a group of students both sitting behind me and performing in front of me on the stage.  It was a good time to use the "eyes in the back of my head" that all teachers claim to have.  I don't know what I would have done if one of my out of sight students had done something wrong.  I suppose I would have had to stop the show, correct the student and move on from there.

Anyway, last week in the middle of all the chaos and madness and glitter and tinsel, I thought to myself, "Do people ever really see the worth of a music teacher?" I mean, we live in a country whose education is so regimented, the powers that be see more merit in removing the arts to make room for more math.  But does anyone really notice the magic that happens when a music teacher takes a bunch of rowdy kids, puts them in a small room together and teaches them to channel their endless energy into a beautiful melody?

Maybe it's something you've never thought about before, but so many countless, thankless hours go into a holiday production, and the music teacher doesn't even get the credit.  That goes to the stage performers who shine bright because of their solos or funny lines.

If you attend any musical performances this holiday, will you do me a favor?  Take a minute and see if you can locate the director of the show.  Watch him or her for a moment during the performance and you're likely to catch a person making magic.  Injecting energy and spirit into each and every line of a song that someone else performs.  Bonus points if you thank the music teacher who allows your loved ones to shine so bright on that stage!

Happy Holidays!

( Here are some of my holiday elves and reindeer getting ready for their 4th performance of our show in 48 hours!  No wonder they look tired!)